Everything you need to know about traveling to Cuba
Traveling to Cuba is not as difficult as it seems. As long as you get your visa you are basically good to go. Your trip, however, has to fit under the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba but that honestly isn’t hard.
Havana has so much history and so much culture that we never got to learn about in school, for obvious reasons. Not even reading about Cuba can prepare you for the wealth of information you get from speaking to the locals. This was my first time in a communist country and I was blown away by what I learned.
As an American traveling to Cuba, you MUST have a visa and travel under one of these 12 reasons.
The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba are:
- family visits;
- official business of the U.S. government,
- foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
- journalistic activity;
- professional research and professional meetings;
- educational activities;
- religious activities;
- public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
- support for the Cuban people;
- humanitarian projects;
- activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
- exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials;
Cost of the Cuba visa ranges from 50$ to 85$ depending on whether the airline gets you a discount from Cuba visa website. You can either get the visa sent to you or pick it up at the airport. If you get it sent to you within two week, I would give it a month to be on the safe side, or pick it up at an airport kiosk in the terminal or at your gate.
It is actually a pretty easy process. Just make sure you get a STAMP ON YOUR BOARDING PASS. Otherwise you cant board the plane.
Like many countries, Cuba requires you to have at least 2 empty passport pages. So make sure you handle that before you leave. Depending on the Cubano passport control person, they may let you through. LoL , but lets not chance it.
Arriving and Leaving the Airport
There are taxis waiting outside so just take one of those. To take you to your destination. My driver was Guillermo
Buy water at the airport or ask your taxi driver to take you to a market and you can buy water but I would buy a lot of water depending on how long you gonna be there. It is extremely important that you stay hydrated not be able to drink enough water to get those toxins out of your body
For convenience, you should also exchange your money here.
Cuba has two forms of currency, the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) and the CUP (Cuban Peso). The CUC is the main currency used by travelers. It can only be obtained in Cuba and has no value outside of Cuba, so do not plan to convert CUC when you get back in the US.
1 USD $ = 1 CUC
Note* You can convert CUC back to USD while you are still IN CUBA. But once you leave America will be like, nah bruh.
*changing US dollars into CUCs carries a 13% fee. Expect to receive 87 CUC for $100 USD.
You can exchange your money into CUC at the airport upon arrival (suggested), at a Cuban bank, hotel (larger fees), or CADECA (exchange bureau). Don’t forget your ORIGINAL passport when you want to exchange money; you cant exchange without it. A copy is not valid.
It is possible to exchange money through a Cuban on the street but I don’t recommend it. It just avoids getting ripped off but I’ve heard stories of it being just fine. It kind of alleviates the long line. Your taxi driver can help with this, just use your discretion.
Also note* US citizens cannot withdraw money from the ATM or us credit and debit cards. It sucks but is absolutely manageable. Just make sure you bring more USD than you think you’ll need. Don’t exchange it all though. I would exchange 30% per person and keep the other 70% in USD.
Personal example: I brought 1200$ with me and exchanged 350$. That lasted me 4 days including paying for one casa particular, lunch and dinner there, tips and 30$-40$ lunch and dinners the rest of the time. The other days my lodging was prepaid.
I took out 1200 because I was not about to be SOL and I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed just in case something happen with the flight and I was stuck in Cuba. I just wanted to make sure that I had enough money to stay there if any emergencies emerged.
But know that I don’t always travel cheap so obviously it is possible to survive Havana o less than 50 USD a day.
In Cuba, tipping is expected and strongly appreciated. 10 percent is the going percentage.
I personally didn’t have any safety issues. Safety is probably one of your least concerns when traveling to Cuba. Cuba is considered one of the safest countries in the world and it has a very low crime rate. Violent crime is virtually unheard of, and strict sentences are imposed for petty crimes against tourists. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen so use good judgment at all times.
- Do not leave your belongings unattended or hanging on the back of your chair. Because petty crime does occur.
- Don’t wear expensive jewelry. It attracts pickpockets and panhandlers. This is a good tip for anywhere.
- Keep cameras and handbags secure to your person at all times.
- Do not pack valuables in your checked luggage.
- Keep an eye out for potholes, ditches and uncovered drains, particularly at night when walking on dimly lit streets and sidewalks.
- STAY HYDRATED. This is not a joke or something to take lightly. Cuba gets hot and humid. If you are not used to both you need to make sure you drink at least 3 litres a day and sometimes more depending on your level of activity.
You can definitely find a lot of places to stay in Cuba. You don’t have to stay in a hotel; they are expensive and you can find Casa Particulars that are cozier. The Casa Particulars can be found on Airbnb and you may also get a home cooked Cuban meal.
Don’t expect everyone to speak English because they don’t. They speak Spanish.
Food Drinks Alcohol Budget
Alcoholic beverages are cheap at bars and are probably one of the best reasons traveling to Cuba is so great. Touristy restaurants are more expensive obviously. I never left a restaurant paying less than 35CUC.
Can you drink the water?
- Drink bottled water at all times. Do not drink water from the tap. Hotels and Tourist restaurants have ice that is fine in your drinks.
- Do not drink unsealed juices from street vendors. Aside from any
- Beverages provided with breakfast.
- Bottled water is hard to come by as well in Cuba, so please purchase multiple bottles at a time when you make a water run.
What About The Food?
If you are going to Cuba as a foodie or for a culinary experience you will be very disappointed lol. The food will do but there was nothing I ate that I needed to write home about. I will say every time I had ceviche it was SUPERB! As hot as it was that cold and light meal was fantastic.
The food is generally safe to eat, particularly at private restaurants (paladares) where customer service and reviews are critical to repeat business. Take normal precautions as you would traveling to any country. If something doesn’t smell or taste good, send it back.
The cuisine is either meat or fish with rice basically. They don’t do veggies but that is normal for the Caribbean
Things You Should Pack
The Cubans have it down. They only wear one layer of clothing on top and 1 layer of clothing on the bottom not including undergarments but whatever you wear make sure it is breathable. Workout clothes are acceptable and that seems to be the style right now.
- Powerbank — this is the one I have and I love it!
- A scarf – if you’re going to go inside of a church just make sure your knees, shoulders, and chest are covered.
- Breathable Shoes
- Small Backpack to hold your camera and other extras. This is the one I took and it was perfect.
- Bug spray. I used OFF Clip-ons because I hate bug spray. These are the refills that go with it.
- Sanitizing wipes
- Toilet paper or tissues in case you find yourself in a place without toilet paper
- Broad spectrum sunscreen
If you’re used to travelling outside of the US you know you can find WiFi at restaurants. Not the case in Cuba. WiFi is basically nonexistent so if you have a problem being disconnected and not being able to post your latest selfie then you might not want to go.
Connecting to the internet is unreliable and slow, if successful. WIFI is available at some hotels and public spaces. Rates vary between 2.00 and 10.00 CUC per hour. That being said, if you must connect – the best place to buy a WIFI card is at the front desk of a hotel. Typically, these cards are for hotel guests only but if you’re nice they may sell you one. You can also purchase them at wifi spots or at the airport.
Let me tell you though if you have Verizon don’t even think about trying to connect to data or call anyone unless you get a calling card lol you will come home to a 400$ bill.
Electricity Voltage & Adapters
Electricity is typically 110 volts, 60Hz (same as the US and Canada), however, some accommodations do not have three-prong outlets.
Cuba does not have rolling blackouts and they don’t turn off the electricity for no reason like some other countries so there are no worries there.
Most plugs are just like American plugs so you won’t have any issue there. but I would suggest bringing a universal adapter so that you will have any issues. Bring a converter because one of my accommodations had American plugs and the other had European.
Be aware of the pollution it is pretty awful. Being in Havana and just walking, to be honest, is like sucking on the end of a tailpipe.There’s so much pollution and to be honest I had a Slight headache the entire time I was there an acceptable would when we were in Viñales because we were up in the mountains and you know the air was so much better out there on
- Passport + printed copies of passport
- Save Cuban exit visa until you leave Cuba
- Health insurance. I recommend with any location that has monkeys or poor health care systems. Just in case you end up in the hospital and need to be extradited. I use nomad for all of my healthcare. They offer a great amount of coverage and are the cheapest ive found.
Overall Experience Of Havana
I enjoyed the Cuban culture but Havana I didn’t really like mainly because of the whole smog, sucking on the end of a tailpipe, thing. I definitely want to go back and visit the rest of the country.
I loved the authenticity of everyone and everything. Cuba is not “stuck in the 50s, it is just the tourist cars. Most people walk or drive other cars made in the 90s. SO don’t think you’re going to see Ricky Ricardo in a 57 Chevy riding around. Many of the buildings are dilapidated, to me, it adds to the charm of the city. Honestly, it is going to be very long time before anything gets rebuilt or becomes commercialized. So you definitely don’t have to worry about Cuba becoming “Americanized” lol one for obvious reasons and two because of money.
Now because of trumps new law you can now only go to Cuba in a group, which is how I went.
Overall Havana is lovely and if you make it a point to speak with the locals you will learn so much. I felt like I got a lot out of my 6 days in Cuba but I definitely want to go back with 2 weeks.
But if you are up for being disconnected and going to a cigar farm it is an amazing destination.
How was your experience in Havana? Do you have any other questions about traveling to Cuba? Let me know in the comments below.
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